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Supreme Court strikes a blow to cord-cutting

Supreme Court strikes a blow to cord-cutting
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

I've got bad news for all of you cord cutters out there. The Supreme Court decided that Aereo's streaming service violates copyright laws. This is bad news for both the company and its many subscribers.

Aereo has not announced when it will shut down service yet or if customers will get refunds.

The company uses warehouses full of tiny antennas to capture broadcast signals and send entertainment to subscribers. Aereo's customers can stream shows to their gadgets and record programs. Each customer pays to rent an individual antenna that they can control from their computer or gadgets.

Since the days of rabbit ear antennas, people have been getting broadcast entertainment for free using antennas. Aereo said its service was just more of the same. In a 6-3 decision, the Court said Aereo operated like a cable company. It didn't buy the argument that Aereo is helping customers legally watch free broadcast television.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, writing for the majority, rejected all of Aereo’s major arguments. He said the service was “not simply an equipment provider” but acted like a cable system in that it transmitted copyrighted content. “Insofar as there are difference,” he wrote, “those differences concern not the nature of the service that Aereo provides so much as the technological manner in which it provides the service.”

Even the dissenting judges didn't really like how Aereo does business, but they didn't think the company was breaking the law, either.

In a dissent that expressed distaste for Aereo’s business model, Justice Antonin Scalia said the service had identified a loophole in the law. “It is not the role of this court to identify and plug loopholes,” he wrote.

This is a big win for broadcast providers like ABC, who was the leading plaintiff. These companies make big bucks by charging cable providers for content.

For the rest us, it means that cutting the cord is going to be that much harder. Getting all of that live content you love will be difficult without a box or HDTV antenna. You can still use more traditional content services like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video. Streaming devices like Roku are also great, especially for NFL fans.

These are pretty good alternatives until we see how this decision affects cord-cutting in the long term.

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